J.R. Smith officially becomes free agent

USA TODAY Sports

Don't let the 'free agent' moniker fool you -- J.R. Smith is an important component of the Knicks' future plans, and they haven't been shy about saying as much.

The NBA's reigning Sixth Man of the Year will hit the open market and become a free agent this offseason, according to ESPNNewYork.com.

Smith had a player option for 2013-14 and, as expected, declined it after having a stellar season. Playing a major role in the team's success in both the regular and postseason, he averaged 18.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game and gave New York a go-to scoring threat off the bench when Carmelo Anthony was off the floor.

The Knicks fully expected Smith to test the waters after outplaying his current $2.9 million contract, but retaining him in the Big Apple is their top priority. They can sign him using the Early Bird exception at approximately $5 million per season for four years with standard raises.

There are key factors that give New York an advantage in re-signing Smith, in addition to the compensation. For one, he is a native of New Jersey, and playing in New York City affords him the opportunity to be close to his family. He also developed a strong rapport with head coach Mike Woodson, under whom he took a major step forward as a player.

The biggest dangling carrot for another team would be pitching to the 27-year-old a chance to start, which would undoubtedly prove intriguing to him.

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